Here Is The Lowdown On That F-16 Being Sold In Florida

The firm actually has three upgraded F-16s for sale, which could represent an attractive opportunity for a limited set of potential buyers. 

Falcon Air Meet 2011
U.S. Air Force—Public Domain

Jet Lease, an aircraft brokerage and leasing firm out of Palm Beach, Florida has some exotic aircraft listed for sale on their website, but among the AH-1s, C-130s, UH-60s, and a variety of private jets, the listing for the F-16 is bound to draw the most attention.

We reached out to Jet Lease to get all the details on this intriguing offering. They were really enthusiastic about it and about their growing surplus military aircraft sales portfolio. As a result, we learned a lot, paramount of which is that the firm has three similar F-16s that could be sold together to create a private F-16 mini-squadron. These aircraft are F-16AM and BM Block 20 Mid-Life-Update (MLU) jets that are imported from Jordan. That country had bought dozens of second-hand F-16s from America's NATO allies in Europe—Belgium and the Netherlands—between 2008 and 2017 under the Peace Falcon III to Peace Falcon VI initiatives. They have subsequently been in the process of liquidating some of their older F-16s in recent years, including selling Block 15 F-16s to Pakistan.

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RJAF F-16s in formation behind a USAF KC-135 during a multi-national exercise. 

It's not totally unheard of for F-16s to be privately traded or used by commercial operators, but these are not the demilitarized warbirds that are usually the playthings of the mega-rich. They are functioning combat aircraft that are marketed to contractor air service providers that provide adversary support and test and development services to the Pentagon, allied governments, and other defense contractors. The buyers must comply with and successfully navigate the strict ITARS (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) rules surrounding acquiring and operating a weapon system like an F-16, which keeps these planes out of the hands of those who shouldn't be able to pull them apart, let alone fly them. So no, this plane can't really be purchased by some rich dude who is looking for a thrilling alternative to the latest supercar. 

The primary Viper being listed was built in 1980, but it has been enhanced along the MLU roadmap and has modern features found on many front-line Vipers today. This includes being setup for Link16 data-link and Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS), a data-bus for modern guided weapons and other stores, a night-vision compatible cockpit, and so on. The Viper still has its AN/APG-66(V)2 pulse doppler radar, which is a very important feature that we will get to in a moment. It has also received Falcon STAR (Structural Augmentation Roadmap) that will allow it fly to at least 8,000 hours. The jet currently has 6,000 hours on its airframe, so there are many, many years of flying life left in it—I would estimate 10-15 years and that could be potentially be extended further.

The jet has an asking price of $8.5M and the other two have a similar starting place for negotiations. In addition, any potential sale could also include spare parts, training, and simulators. So, if an operator wanted the entire F-16 end-to-end package, it seems like it could be worked into a deal at additional cost.

The F-16 is really the top-end of aircraft being eyed for commercial adversary support duties as part of the Pentagon's massive push to drastically expand these programs within the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps—a topic I have been writing about regularly for nearly a decade

The F-16 is incredibly capable and nimble, and while some aggressor outfits tout the capability, it has yet to really emerge operationally. Some key contracts have seen them passed over for less expensive to operate third-generation fighters that sport new subsystems. In particular, modern radar systems and data-links. This was the case in competition between the Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC) and Tactical Air Support Inc. (TacAir) for 'fourth generation' adversary support services at Naval Air Station Fallon. Fallon is the home of Topgun and where a variety of regular exercises occur, including air wing spin-ups prior to deployments, as well as tactics development, and more. You can read all about that contract and why upgraded F-5E/F Tiger IIs beat out F-16s to win it in this past feature of ours.

Still, that is just one of many contracts up for grabs that have varying degrees of requirements. The F-16, with its high performance, radar, and data-link capability, satisfies the high-end of those requirements, but its not exactly the cheapest to operate or procure. This reality has led to something of a mad dash to acquire large fleets of surplus supersonic fighters capable of lugging a modern radar system aloft. Eventually, as these older, cheaper airframes, such as Dassault Mirage F1s, IAI F-21 Kfirs, F-5 Tiger IIs, and Atlas Cheetahs are gobbled up, more complex fourth-generation fighters will be in even greater demand. 

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RJAF F-16AM taxiing. 

With this in mind, grabbing a trio of F-16AM/BMs that are essentially turnkey and ready to fly may be a highly logical proposition for the biggest adversary support players or even emerging players that are ready to dive in to what is going to be an incredibly active marketplace that will only continue to explode in size over the coming decade. The services simply cannot afford to fly the wings off their fighter fleets—some of which are already quite tired—performing many air-to-air training tasks, a good portion of which don't require a highly complex airframe. This is especially pointed in regards to the fielding of the F-35 in large numbers—an expensive airframe that is very costly to fly. Using a pair of F-35s for duties like simple intercept training is an absurd waste of money. Even using two Eagles or Super Hornets for that type of mission is wasteful, as well. All told, contractors provide a tailored capability adversary support capability for less money and offer elastic capacity. It's a win-win for all involved. 

Also, by mixing in a true fourth-generation fighter capability via a handful of F-16s among third-generation aggressors that emulate some fourth-generation features, more complex threat representations can be offered to customers that more accurately reflect what frontline pilots may actually encounter overseas. This would also take the burden off of the Pentagon's tired fourth-generation fighter fleet that currently has to provide this level of training. With a data-link, the F-16 can feed its sensor data to assets that don't even have a radar themselves, which makes for a cost-effective force multiplier for more complex training scenarios.

So yeah, these upgraded F-16s, with their AN/APG-66(V)2 radars and other systems in place, really do have a lot to offer. Upgrades for Vipers, including active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar options, can be had from domestic and international suppliers with all of the development dollars already paid for. We are talking about truly off-the-shelf upgrades, including other sensors like infrared search and track (IRST) systems and advanced electronic warfare suites, that can make these F-16s whatever the customer demands them to be. And yes, they could also probably find work in a developmental and testing role, as well.

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RJAF F-16BM departing on a mission. One of the jets the firm has to sell is a two-seater like this.

Finally, supportability shouldn't be a huge issue. As it sits now, roughly 4,600 F-16s have been built. So, sustaining these aircraft won't be the nightmare that less prolific 4th generation fighter types may represent. 

It will be interesting to see who snaps these jets up. Will it be a well-established adversary contractor or one that is trying to break into the marketplace? Time will tell. But the idea of seeing some aggressor Vipers in private hands is truly exciting.

Check out Jet Lease at their website linked here and follow them on Facebook here. They really seem to love what they do and they certainly aren't shy about taking on some very unique projects!

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com